Md. well-rep­re­sented in new mu­seum


Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

— Al­though the Smith­so­nian’s new Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture opens Satur­day in the heart of Washington, its neigh­bor­ing state of Mary­land has a strong pres­ence.

From a freed slave house in Mont­gomery County to pho­to­graphs of Bal­ti­more’s un­rest af­ter Fred­die Gray’s death, Mary­land’s black ex­pe­ri­ence through­out his­tory is broadly rep­re­sented. Ac­cord­ing to the mu­seum’s on­line col­lec­tion, Mary­land was in the top 15 states with the most ar­ti­facts.

Ar­ti­facts from Mary­land on dis­play in­clude an early 1800s stone slave auc­tion block from Hager­stown, a pa­per cut­ter from the Bal­ti­more Afro-Amer­i­can news­pa­per and a copy of the book “This Child’s Gonna Live”


by Mary­land-born Sarah E. Wright, who por­trayed the lives of a black fam­ily set by the state’s East­ern Shore.

Paul Gar­dullo, a cu­ra­tor at the mu­seum, said it’s cru­cial to re­flect the “deeply im­por­tant” his­tory of Mary­land to African-Amer­i­can life.

“While we are a na­tional mu­seum, our lo­cal au­di­ences and lo­cal his­to­ries are in­cred­i­bly mean­ing­ful to us,” he added.

Gar­dullo helped the mu­seum ob­tain a prom­i­nent Mary­land ar­ti­fact: a freed slave house in Poolesville that was slated to be de­mol­ished in 2008. Cu­ra­tors have dubbed it “the Free­dom House.”

Broth­ers and eman­ci­pated Mont­gomery County slaves Richard and Eras­mus Jones built the house af­ter the Civil War. Soon, 15 houses neigh­bored it, and it be­came the Jonesville Com­mu­nity. The area con­tin­ued to house de­scen­dants of the Jones fam­ily — through birth and marriage — for al­most 150 years, ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land State Archives.

The house was one of the last Jonesville Com­mu­nity homes stand­ing, a relic of an era char­ac­ter­ized by slav­ery, seg­re­ga­tion and re­birth. The build­ing’s last owner was a Jones fam­ily de­scen­dant who died in 2007, leav­ing it va­cant, said Scott Whip­ple, su­per­vi­sor of the Mont­gomery County his­toric preser­va­tion unit at the county’s plan­ning de­part­ment.

So when a cou­ple wanted to de­mol­ish the house and build an­other in 2008, Whip­ple called up his old col­lege friend Gar­dullo and asked for his help.

Gar­dullo “ba­si­cally dropped the phone and ran to one of his bosses, and said ‘We’re go­ing to try to get the house,’” Whip­ple said.

The two-story house stood in con­trast to the smaller slave cab­ins en­slaved African-Amer­i­cans lived in be­fore eman­ci­pa­tion, Gar­dullo said.

“The story that this home tells of ris­ing from the ground two sto­ries high is a tan­gi­ble sym­bol and metaphor for this pe­riod of new­found free­dom,” he added. “But it also is a sym­bol of the lim­i­ta­tions put upon African Amer­i­cans dur­ing this same pe­riod.”

Jonesville is one of about 40 “kin­ship com­mu­ni­ties” across the county, Whip­ple said, and many of the orig­i­nal houses aren’t around any­more.

“It just shows what peo­ple can do for them­selves when their con­di­tions change,” Whip­ple said. “This hap­pened in other parts of the coun­try, but the story that the mu­seum is us­ing to tell this chap­ter of our his­tory is a Mont­gomery County story.”

And the his­tory is al­ways be­ing made.

In April 2015, Fred­die Gray died from neck in­juries he suf­fered while in Bal­ti­more po­lice cus­tody.

In the af­ter­math of Gray’s death, the city’s peace­ful protests turned into riots that re­ver­ber­ated far be­yond Mary­land. Ten­sions be­tween Bal­ti­more’s black com­mu­nity and po­lice reached a boil­ing point.

Weeks later, mu­seum re­searcher Tu­lani Salahu-Din and cu­ra­tor Aaron Bryant went to col­lect ar­ti­facts in the city. They walked along North Av­enue and saw the re­sults of the city’s worst wave of vi­o­lence since 1968: the CVS that caught fire, mer­chants and shop­keep­ers whose stores had been looted and more.

An ATM ma­chine out­side of a store was com­pletely torn off the wall, with a protest mes­sage spray painted across: “Fred­die Gray” was all it said.

“We wanted to col­lected a range of items, we wanted to col­lect items that re­flected the riots, the de­struc­tion, the cleanup ef­fort, the artis­tic re­sponse to this un­rest,” Salahu-Din said, “and we wanted to col­lect from a range of peo­ple.”

A pho­to­graph from Bal­ti­more-based pho­tog­ra­pher Devin Allen is fea­tured as a me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion in the mu­seum, Bryant said. It shows a young girl hold­ing a Black Lives Mat­ter sign dur­ing a Bal­ti­more City Hall rally.

Salahu-Din said it was hard to say when the other ar­ti­facts from the 2015 Bal­ti­more un­rest will be in the mu­seum, as they were col­lected af­ter ex­hi­bi­tion ar­ti­facts were ap­proved. Stu­dio A Mod­el­ing Eti­quette and Dance Acad­emy in Bal­ti­more County do­nated hoodie cos­tumes — a sym­bol of so­cial jus­tice, Salahu-Din said, since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in 2012 while wear­ing one — from a pro­duc­tion called “Black is Beau­ti­ful.”

New­born Church in West Bal­ti­more do­nated brooms and rakes used dur­ing cleanup af­ter the riots, which Salahu-Din said she and Bryant em­pha­sized col­lect­ing.

“We want to present a full pic­ture of what took place,” she said. “There was de­struc­tion but there were also peo­ple com­ing to­gether to clean up their com­mu­ni­ties.”

Mary­land state ar­chiv­ist Ryan Cox called the mu­seum a cel­e­bra­tion of African-Amer­i­can peo­ple’s ac­com­plish­ments in a coun­try that “could af­ford to be re­minded of that truth.”

“His­to­ri­ans will be ask­ing them­selves in the fu­ture in re­gards to this time pe­riod … ‘ Why does 2015 look and sound like 1965, which sounded a lot like 1895, which echoed a lot of the con­cerns that were ad­dressed in 1865?’” Cox said in an email.

Mary­land’s ar­ti­facts tell dif­fer­ent sto­ries from dif­fer­ent eras, but Salahu-Din said the dis­plays all have a uni­ver­sal theme.

“It’s about peo­ple hav­ing free­dom,” she said. “Free­dom to live, to be with­out the threat of vi­o­lence lurk­ing.”

“It was crit­i­cal for us as a mu­seum — who have doc­u­mented the his­tory of vi­o­lence against African-Amer­i­cans since slav­ery — that we con­tinue to doc­u­ment that as­pect of Amer­i­can life,” she added.

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